Design Education in India
Inclusion of emerging technologies in design exploration
As emerging technologies bring about fundamental transformation in the products and services, it opens up tremendous opportunities and means to explore creativity that lies at close intersection of Art, Science, Design, Computer Science and many other disciplines. Design education in India is yet to explore and exploit on this idea. Concerns arise regarding how Indian Design Education is going to adopt to such transformations.
While the debate regarding status of Indian Design education is not new, there remains a silence and uneasiness amongst Indian Design schools regarding adoption of new tools, teaching methods and evolution of Design curriculums to accommodate disruptive and emerging technologies. While Indian Design schools have started to understand the need for evolution, it is seen that there still exists confusion and lack of coherent understanding of how this has to be achieved.
What if new digital realities emerging from computing and upcoming technologies are taught in courses? How can this be achieved? How can there be a balance between the traditional and new experimental teaching methods? These are the moot point of concern discussed in this article.
The Beginning of Design Education
However before jumping into the notion that new technologies have to be included in Design schools, it is important to understand how design education started in India. For this, we have to go back to 1950s, when the newly freed India, that had been impoverished by British policies, was trying to find its identities in various aspects of life. Industrialization, Technology and Education were amongst the primary factors considered that would rescue India’s grappling economy. On the technology front, IITs were established that are considered as temple of knowledge. The IITs were to push India to a bright and new future through research, technology and design in various scientific and engineering domains. The first IIT was established in 1951 at Kharagpur in West Bengal.
Around the same time, India was going through rapid industrialisation. There was a strong need to develop a Design Institute that could facilitate and offer assistance to industrial production. Therefore, design was seen as an important service for industrial growth of India. In 1957, the Government of India requested Ford Foundation to invite American designers, Charles and Ray Eames to make recommendations to setup such an institute. Thus NID was established in 1961 under Ministry of Commerce, India. Its teaching was inspired by Bauhaus ideology of social relevance of art in society. Primary emphasis was on learning by doing and it challenged the existing norms of education in the country by using a radically different approach to both learning and teaching. NIDs were also instrumental in preserving and documenting India’s traditional culture, arts and, craft. During that time (and also for most part in current times), primary materials utilized in Industry were ceramics/ clay, wood, metals, etc. — thus these materials also became primary for Design Explorations in academia.
The Evolution Era
In 1969, Industrial Design Center (IDC) was established at IIT Bombay based on the philosophies of Ulm and looked at Design as an integrator of various services, primarily focusing on social innovations.
By around 1990s the landscape of industries in India started shifting towards knowledge-based industry relying on Information Technology (IT). IIT Guwahati (IITG) became the first design school in India to formally start a Bachelor of Design program (NID used to provide a diploma in Design at that time) and Research (i.e, Ph.D.) in Design, leveraging it’s position of being in a premier technical institute of the country.
It formulated a Design curriculum, first of its kind in India, by integrating technology and design together — based on the DSTEAM (Design, Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Management) pedagogy, proposed by Prof. Pradeep Yammiyavar , and ran successfully till 2016.
The first Usability Engineering and Interaction Design Lab was setup in 2003 at IITG pioneering in interdisciplinary design research. The current curriculum at IITGs’ Department of Design is a reflection of IDC and NID’s curriculum.
Present Scenario & Emerging Technologies
At present, most Indian design schools follow NID’s version of Design Curriculum — that now needs to evolve. Few design institutes like IIIT Delhi (Human-Centered Design) have taken a niche by combining Design with Computer Science; IISc’s Center for Product Development and Manufacturing (CPDM) primarily focuses on engineering aspects associated with product development.
When we look at the current trends and evolution of industry, we will eventually move from fourth industrial revolution (i.e., cyber-physical systems, AI, AR/VR, etc.) towards fifth industrial revolution (i.e. towards humanizing technology) in near future. Presently, we are located at the close intersection of new material technologies, ubiquitous computing and design. In such a scenario, how can we help designers understand these technologies and utilize them? With the proliferation of computing technologies and tools, computational thinking becomes an important skill to acquire. But how can curriculums become inclusive enough, yet retain the essence of foundational/ traditional modes of teaching? While design is a creative discipline, old teaching methodologies and curriculums simply do not provide vent for creative expressions evolving from rapidly changing platforms (both hardware and software).
Further, the Design schools in India are yet to understand their potential. They are working on curriculum replication model instead of understanding their strengths and potential when devising their curriculums. If we only consider government design schools (IITs, NIDs) - the IITs try to embody NID’s framework or are somewhat inspired by it. There is a need to understand the type of design being practiced. NIDs are primarily rooted in cultural, social and traditional practices of design. IITs are strongly rooted in the need to push India’s scientific and technological growth, research and development. Design schools located within technical institutes such as IITs should realize and nurture upon this framework to produce computational designers and technocrats who are able to address India’s technology focused design innovation and solutions.
Within Design, there are always people who work with tools and people who creates the tools. Both are equally important. With a strong technical background, IITs can become creators of technological design tools that can help mediate needs and creative expressions of designers in various other domains. Creative designers can utilize these tools to create new designs, tools or help inform design of these tools.
With the current technological advancements, the role of designers is changing from skill-based to supervisor-based — i.e., primarily instructing computing tools to design. It is high-time that Indian design schools start reflecting on their strengths and design an evolutionary/ experimental curriculums/ courses that are able to address these upcoming challenges in Design and help cater future design students. On this front, an experimental course methodology was designed by the author and presented at World Design Assembly Education Summit 2019. This course, being run at UPES, Dehradun, tries to find synergies between traditional and experimental approach to teaching new technologies in Design. It is still a work-in-progress that tries to bridge understanding between various technological aspects, how they can be taught in synergies with existing teaching methods.
Overall, emerging technologies and digital realities need to be considered as a material for design explorations. To understand how creative design education can integrate technology, we need to understand the creative potential of technology.
“ Only when we start seeing technology as a creative medium, we can start painting the canvas. For this to happen, new age designers need to shed their inhibition and pre-formed notions about technology and approach it head on with a fearless attitude — as a playful material rather than a black box of magic”
Disclaimer: This article contains personal observations and opinions that have been made by the author and are in no way targeted towards any institute/ school of thought, etc.
1. UE & HCI Lab, Department of Design, IITG. http://iitg.ac.in/uelab/awards.html
2. Srivastava, A. (2019) Integrating Emerging Technologies as a Material for Exploration in Design Curriculums of India. Poster presented in World Design Organization Research and Education Forum 2019. https://anmolsrivastava.in/
3. National Institute of Design. http://nid.edu/
4. The Future of Design Education in India. https://www.britishcouncil.in/sites/default/files/the_future_of_design_education_in_india.pdf
Author: Dr. Anmol Srivastava
Editor: Shubhangi Shekhar